This article is part of our series showcasing well-known copyright ownership cases from the music and film industries, technology, and more.
In this week’s post, we look at well-known copyright infringement cases in the film industry.
Star Wars vs Battlestar Galactica
One of the most famous cases of copyright infringement in the film industry was between the notorious Star Wars movies and tv series Battlestar Galactica. The claim was that Battlestar Galactica ‘used’ an excessive amount of ideas from the Star Wars. BattleStar Galactica was written and produced in 1977, the year when Star Wars’ first movie, later subtitled Episode IV – A New Hope, aired in the cinemas. . 20th Century Fox sued Universal Studios (Battlestar Galactica) for stealing 34 distinct ideas from Star Wars. An example was Skyler, a character in Battlestar Galactica. Sounds familiar? Skywalker was one of the most (if not the most) important characters in Star Wars. They even considered airing the series with the title ”Star Worlds” but they went for Battlestar Galactica instead. Glen Larson, creator of Battlestar Galactica, explained that he agreed not to use special effects like laser beams, so they don’t resemble the ones from Star Wars and he understood that 20th Century Fox will not take any action, as per agreement between the two parties.
In addition, Universal Studios countersued Star Wars. Their claim was that Star Wars was using the robot drones from the 1972 film Silent Running. The case was remanded and then reportedly settled. However, the original Battlestar Galactica was cancelled after only 24 episodes, and instead The Empire Strikes Back aired at the cinemas. According to the Utah Law Student Land: “Instances of the characters, plot elements, political situations, etc. in popular pre-1977 science fiction suggest that these things were not invented by Star Wars. Based on this evidence, a continued trial would probably have resulted in judgment favorable to Universal Studios, and the original Battlestar Galactica series might have lived to see its second season”.
James Cameron’s big movie hit is still considered among the most successful films ever made. As a result many wanted to get some of that success in claiming rights for some aspects of the film. In 2013, an artist called William Roger Dean, who designs album covers sued Cameron and Twenty Century Fox for ‘stealing’ his art from the Na’vi home of Pandora. He claimed that the landscapes depicted in the movie were similar to his own as seen on the album cover. Dean was claiming $50 million in damages, however the court declined his request as the art did not resemble the style from Cameron’s movie.
The Hangover Part II
In the movie The Hangover Part II, Ed Helms’s character wakes up after a crazy night with a face tattoo similar to Mike Tyson. As a consequence, the tattoo artist S. Victor Whitmill filed a copyright infringement lawsuit claiming it was the same tattoo he had created for Mike Tyson some years earlier. His case stood in court and in the end it was settled at undisclosed terms.
To conclude, if there is one lesson that we learn from the copyright infringement cases described above is that ideas can not be copyrighted but creations can.
Using the idea of other worlds and extraterrestrial life does not justify infringement unless you use the exact scripts and storylines but using the exact same creation like a tattoo without license does.